Syria wants Arab League crisis summit after Assad supporters attack embassies

The call comes one day after supporters of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attacked several embassies in response to the Arab League's Saturday decision to suspend Syria.

Bassem Tellawi/AP
Pro-Syrian regime protesters hang the Syrian flag on the fence of the Qatari embassy, in Damascus, Syria, on Saturday. The Arab League voted Saturday to suspend Syria in four days and warned the regime could face sanctions if it does not end its bloody crackdown against anti-government protesters. The decision was a symbolic blow to a nation that prides itself on being a powerhouse of Arab nationalism.

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Syria called for an emergency Arab summit and invited Arab League officials to visit Sunday, a day after the Arab League voted to suspend Syria’s membership effective Wednesday.

After the vote Saturday, thousands of supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attacked embassies of countries critical of Syria during demonstrations in Damascus and other cities.

In calling for an emergency summit, the regime of Mr. Assad appears to have been at least somewhat rattled by the vote, in which 18 members of the 22-member Arab League voted to suspend Syria’s membership.

The move comes eight months after the Syrian regime began a brutal suppression of pro-democracy protests, and less than two weeks after Syria agreed to an Arab League plan to end the violence, which Assad's regime then ignored as it continued killing protesters. The United Nations estimates that more than 3,500 people have been killed by security forces so far, while activists say more than 250 people have been killed so far this month.

The Associated Press reports that in the call for the summit, Syria invited Arab League officials to visit before the suspension takes effect Wednesday. Damascus also said it would allow the Arab officials to bring “any civilian or military observers they deem appropriate to oversee implementation of an Arab League plan for ending the bloodshed,” according to the AP.

State TV: 'Preparations for a war on Syria'

The call was issued on state television, where a presenter called the Arab League decision “the beginnings of the internationalization of the crisis and of preparations for a war on Syria,” reports The Washington Post.

Yemen and Lebanon were the only countries to vote against the Arab League measure, while Iraq abstained. The Arab League also called for Damascus to withdraw tanks from the streets, release prisoners, and start dialogue with the opposition, and called on Arab countries to withdraw their ambassadors from Damascus and said it would impose sanctions on Syria. 

On Sunday, thousands of pro-regime demonstrators again filled streets in Syria in protest. Agence France-Presse reports that tens of thousands gathered in Damascus. According to Reuters, security forces killed four protesters in Hama after several groups broke from the main demonstration and began chanting against Mr. Assad.

Attacks on embassies

The mass demonstrations came after supporters of the regime attacked the Saudi, Qatari, and Turkish embassies after the Arab League vote Saturday. AFP reports that one group of protesters “forced open the gate to Qatar's embassy and made their way to the top of the building, where they removed the Qatari flag and put up a Syrian one, as embassy security personnel fired tear gas.”

At the embassy of Saudi Arabia, protesters threw rocks, smashed windows, and broke in and ransacked the property, according to AFP. Both ambassadors were gone at the time – Qatar’s ambassador left in July, and Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador to Syria in August.

Crowds also attacked Turkey’s embassy in Damascus and two consulates in Aleppo and Latakia, reports Reuters, citing official Turkish media. In Damascus, crowd of about 1,000 reportedly shouted anti-Turkish slogans, threw stones and bottles, and attempted to break into the embassy, but security forces shot tear gas and prevented them from entering. AP reports that Turkey sent planes to evacuate staff Sunday.

Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia voted to suspend Syria’s Arab League membership Saturday, with Qatar reportedly playing a pivotal role in securing the outcome. Turkey is not a member of the Arab League, but has publicly criticized Syria’s killing of demonstrators, after several years of close ties.

The AP also reports that Arab League diplomats said that if Syria does not meet its demands, the Arab League will “work to unify the disparate Syrian opposition into a coalition similar to that of Libya's National Transitional Council,” and may recognize the Syrian opposition as the sole representative of the Syrian people.

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